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5 worst NFL edge defender contracts

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 3: Outside linebacker Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a sack during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 3, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

We continue our series on the best and worst contracts at each position, this time with the most overpaid veteran edge defenders. For each player named, we give the years remaining on his contract, the average cap hit he has against the team for the remaining years of his deal, and the season in which the team can cut him and have more cap savings than dead money (if applicable).

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap. To see the best five edge defender contracts, click here.]

1. Mario Williams, Miami Dolphins

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per season): $8.5 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

The Dolphins could have retained Olivier Vernon on the franchise tag for only a little more than they gave Mario Williams over two years. Williams suffered a dreadful season in Buffalo, recording the worst pass-rush grade of all edge defenders. He managed only 37 combined pressures in 507 rushes, ranking fourth from bottom in pass-rushing productivity. Williams’ 42.5 pass-rush grade helped him to 93rd in our overall edge defender rankings.

The Bills’ wisely noticed the decline in Williams’ performance, cutting ties with him at the right time. The fact Miami decided to hand him $17 million over two years is baffling. Their bookend pass-rushers consist of a 34-year-old coming off an ACL surgery and a 31-year-old coming off the worst season of his career. In the likely case of another disappointing season, Williams’ will cost $2 million in dead money to cut. It would be a surprise if he played well enough to make the $10.5 million he’s set to earn.

2. Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per season): $8.32 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Brooks was playing well when he first signed his six-year, $37 million contract, but he hasn’t made the sort of impact required since 2012. Not since 2013 has he graded positively as a pass-rusher. Brooks managed only 35 combined pressures in 399 snaps a year ago, finishing with a 47.6 pass-rush grade.

Cap hits tend to increase in long-term contracts. That’s the case with Brooks’ deal, which paid him an average of only around $5 million in the first four years. San Francisco isn’t short of cap space, but they lack talent throughout the roster. At the age of 32, the 49ers need to find a contingency plan for an underperforming veteran.

3. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $5.8 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Johnson is not set to make a ton from the Bengals in the remaining years of his contract, but will surely have been expected to contribute more than the 50 combined pressures he managed a year ago. Returning to the team where he made his name after a disastrous season in Tampa, he failed to induce the form of previous years. Johnson managed only a 45.9 pass-rush grade, even if he set the edge well against the run.

Johnson’s contract is not obscene, but he cannot be cut this year or he would incur $5.4 million in dead money. Even after this year, he has a total of $3.4 million in guarantees remaining in his contract. Run-defending defensive ends are a dime a dozen, and probably not worth around $6 million per season.

4. Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers

Years remaining: One

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $10.5 million

The Packers are loathe to sign free agents. They made an exception for division-rival Julius Peppers, handing him close to $9 million over three years back in 2014. He earned $12 million a year ago, and is set to earn $10.5 million this season. Peppers remains productive, but a player of his quality and pay-grade is expected to make more of an impact.

Peppers is paid to rush the passer, reducing the importance of his production in coverage and against the run. Just as well, because he graded negatively in those facets of play. He was simply not consistent enough collapsing the pocket, managing only 54 combined pressures from 413 snaps. Peppers 80.0 pass-rush grade was 27th amongst edge defenders last season, while his $10.5 million cap hit was seventh. A traditionally frugal franchise, it’s somewhat surprising Peppers remains on the deal he signed two years ago.

5. Paul Kruger, Cleveland Browns

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $7.95 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Kruger has not been a terrible free-agent signing, but he’s never replicated the form he showed in Baltimore with Cleveland. The deal may not look particularly excessive now, but he received serious change in the 2013 offseason, signing up for $40 million over five years with $13 million guaranteed. His contract has counted $8 million against the cap in each of his three seasons, making it more palatable now that the overall cap has increased.

Kruger performed adequately as a pass-rusher in 2015, finishing with a 78.3 overall grade. He recorded a high number of pressures (43), but managed only 11 knockdowns only three of which were sacks. The big plays have not carried over from his early-career performances. He also posted a measly 48.3 run-defense grade a year ago. Kruger has not been a bust in Cleveland, but he has failed to develop into the dominant pass-rusher the Browns had likely hoped for.

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